NZ officials assisting with travel bubble preparation

Thursday 29 April 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Health, National

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NZ officials assisting with travel bubble preparation
Secretary Bob Williams from Te Marae Ora. (PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS TOURISM). 21032305

Preparations for a travel bubble with New Zealand are continuing and Prime Minister Mark Brown says Government is continuing its work to be ready by the beginning of next month.

Preparations in advance of quarantine-free travel with New Zealand are picking up speed with the arrival of New Zealand government staff to assist with the training of local health workers.

Following the stationing of Cook Islands government staff in New Zealand for two weeks earlier this month, a team from New Zealand’s Ministry of Health is currently in Rarotonga for a two-week attachment with Te Marae Ora (TMO) to assist with health readiness planning in advance of any travel bubble.

Te Marae Ora secretary Bob Williams said the health ministry ran a ‘live’ scenario last week, which provided a simulation dealing with potential cases of Covid-19 in the Cook Islands.

“The gaps that we have identified from that scenario is the training that some of the officials with New Zealand’s Ministry of Health are taking our staff through,” Williams said.

Training on contact tracing, including utilising the recently released CookSafe+ app, is also taking place.

“Using the app to contact trace is something new to our staff, so that training is being provided to them,” he said.

Contact tracing systems were recently bolstered with the signing of an agreement with the Cook Islands Red Cross, which has also offered to assist with the nation’s Covid-19 vaccination programme and other challenges surrounding the opening of the border.

Williams said TMO is also exploring the possibility of making an arrangement with first responders such as police and firefighters, to assist with contact tracing.

Improvements to TMO’s mass testing abilities are also on track, Williams said, with the final pieces of equipment for Rarotonga Hospital’s PCR lab having arrived earlier this month.

An overseas trainer has arrived this week, and training was expected to start with lab technicians on Wednesday and continue for two weeks.

When a bubble opens up, Williams said visitors will not be required to undergo Covid-19 pre-testing, which places further importance on the country’s health preparedness.

“This is a new experience for us, as we move towards quarantine-free travel,” said Williams.

“The challenge is around decision making, understanding the risks presented in New Zealand, and knowing what we need to put in place to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 coming through here. So that will mean being vigilant at the border and through all of Ministry of Health’s processes.”

A firm date for a travel bubble between both countries has not been announced.

Last month Prime Minister Mark Brown said the country will be ready for quarantine-free travel by May 1, however he has since said the country will be working with the New Zealand government to jointly announce a date for the beginning of two-way travel.

Both Brown and his New Zealand counterpart, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have broadly set May as the target month for the bubble.

This week Brown said he is expecting a bubble readiness assessment report from the Border Easement Taskforce, which includes the heads of a number of government agencies and is chaired by Tepaeru Herrmann, secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration.

“We have been uncompromising in our commitment to ensuring all necessary health and border measures are instituted to the highest standards of protection against Covid-19 prior to commencement of the quarantine-free travel arrangement,” Brown said this week.